Blackberry Messenger Blamed over London Riots

Mike Halsey MVP
Aug 9, 2011
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Internet, Twitter

Blackberry has long been praised, and criticised for the security of it's email and messaging platform.  Most recently the company has faced commercial problems in some middle-eastern countries, most notable Saudi Arabia, where the authorities wanted to be able to get access to personal emails and messages for the purposes of fighting extremism (and some say for quelling rebellion) and didn't like the services being hosted in Blackberry maker RIM's native Canada.  Now Blackberry messenger has hit the headlines again in a negative way with the UK authorities saying it has been used in the last few days by youths organising gangs to loot and destroy property across London.

The riots in London, which were at first triggered by the shooting of a 29 year old man by Police last Thursday in circumstances which have not yet become clear, quickly escalated with opportunistic thugs and criminals burning cars and buildings, destroying homes and businesses and robbing and looting.  In scenes seen last night in the capitol, one youth was seen robbing another of all his clothes in the street, while an injured and dazed individual was robbed of his possessions while he tried to regain his balance.  These riots last night spread to other parts of England including Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham where copycat looting, destruction and violence towards the police was again seen.

blackberry london riots Blackberry made a statement last night saying that it would cooperate with the British Police and release all messages sent by these criminal gangs to the authorities.  This will take time however which is causing frustration on the streets of Britain.

Unlike Twitter, which was commonly and very effectively used in some Arab countries recently and which helped bring the people of Egypt onto the streets to overthrow their president, Blackberry messenger allows users to send secure and encrypted messages to other Blackberry users.  This means the messages cannot be intercepted in real time.  The Metropolitan Police in London said they believe that criminal gangs were using this to co-ordinate the riots and chaos across the city, and to inform each other of the next targets to hit.

Twitter has also been used by the youths responsible for a string of violent attacks against police and property, though these messages are open and have been tracked in real time by the authorities and the press.

Blackberry Messenger needs the Blackberry Internet Service to function, rather than using a normal unencrypted web connection.  It offers facilities including chat groups and dedicated discussions while also allowing users to share pictures, audio recordings and files.  Perhaps more importantly it allows maps to be shared.  The network is only accessible by Blackberry devices and cannot be seen by people on other devices or desktop computers.  Blackberrys have long been favourites in business because of the security and encryption they offer.

How the information share from RIM will happen is as yet unclear.  So far over 400 young people have been arrested in London and it is highly likely that those with Blackberry's will have their mobile records released.  However there may be a wider claim made by the police for all mobile phones within certain cell areas during the times of the rioting.

So far there are no reports of any fatalities in the UK, though the eyes of the world will be on the country ahead of London hosting the Olympic games next summer.  There will be a reported 16,000 police from various forces around the UK on the streets of London tonight to try to bring the violence to an end.

UPDATE -----

In just the few minutes since this article was published, one man has been reported killed after being shot during the violence last night.  There are no further details as of this time.


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  1. Jim said on September 6, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Its crazy how social media and messenging is used now a days and how it creates things like this.

  2. RealTime said on August 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Sounds like the authorities need to invest in Blackberry devices across the entire force. Maybe the answer to the related article, “Is the Blackberry Becoming A Dying Breed?”, a resounding “No!”
    Tthe alleged means of communication among Blackberry users is not the reason for the turmoil. If, indeed, gangs and thugs, as reported in the media, are responsible for the current unrest, then Blackberry is not to be blamed. It’s the “blaming the messenger” approach which never addresses the root problem in any situation, nor is it the solution. There is always a way for the message to be sent and delivered.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      Politicians and most media outlets in the “West” always pick the easy road to find someone to blame for “bad things” happening. I have the feeling for a long time that they are not really interested in the “real” causes at all, as it would be a demonstration of their own incompetence.

      1. TechLogon said on August 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm

        Couldn’t agree more Martin. Blackberries are a poor smokescreen for inadequacies elsewhere.

        The encryption is a red herring – I’m not convinced that plod have the ability to intercept, and actually interpret, even normal mobile messages in real time – record them maybe but not assess/collate them quickly enough to usefully act on them.

        If the media want to jump on a bandwagon how about jumping on themselves? 24 hour TV coverage of people strolling off with looted plasmas and laptops whilst the police just stand back and watch them has surely incited the copycats around London and the usual suspects in other parts of the country?

  3. Roebie said on August 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Blaiming BlackBerry for the riots is overly ridicoulous and just shows the incapability of the British autorities. I can’t remember anyone ever blaming postal offices for sending mail containing rebellious outcries, or blaming pigeons for being used to send secret messages during past wars, or blaming some knife manufacturer because once in a while someone gets stabbed with one.

    1. Jim said on August 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      It’s the near real-time aspect that makes the difference. None of your examples have that capability, not even close. To counter that will take enormous manpower, like the military. Unfortunately they’re focusing on Blackberry, but there are always alternatives. I could post a PGP message on my FB wall for that matter.

      1. AC said on August 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm

        The existence of Blackberry Messenger isn’t the cause of the riots. It isn’t the sole cause and it isn’t even one of the causes. It is however interesting that regardless of how mindless the criminal acts have appeared at first glance, they are orchestrated and coordinated using the very latest technology.

        This shows that the events of the last few days may not be as “spare of the moment” as some of the media are making out.

  4. Dean said on August 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Youth? He was 29.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      You are right, corrected.

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